Oh yeah?! Well where’s YOUR Doctor Who review, huh?! (Sorry this is so late, everyone…)
People come to Doctor Who, and science-fiction in general, for different reasons. For some, the gadgets, space/time travel, and aliens are the focus. As for me, I enjoy science fiction most when the science is couched within the fiction, as opposed to riding out in front, as if we’re watching a world that is like the one we live in…but just a little bit more. “Vincent and The Doctor” is one of the finest episodes of this season of Doctor Who for that reason. Yes, there’s an alien, and yes, The Doctor, with the help of Amy and a famous painter, battles it, but the real story happens in the hearts and minds of the characters, as well as ours.
The Doctor has been “too nice” to Amy in the time since Rory’s death. He’s been taking her to a series of beautiful locations, and now they’ve stopped at the Musee d’Orsay to see the work of her favorite painter, Vincent Van Gogh. It’s all lovely, but Amy is suspicious. In any case, as they overhear Dr. Black (played by an adorably nerdy, and uncredited, Bill Nighy) leading a group around the Van Gogh exhibit, they examine the paintings, and The Doctor notices Van Gogh’s The Church at Auvers on the wall and sees something odd in the window. Something evil-looking. Something he needs to stop. He drags Amy back to the TARDIS to take her to Vincent Van Gogh himself.
They meet Vincent (the amazing Tony Curran), a man who is not only considered mad by his neighbors, but an untalented painter as well. His paintings are mocked, and if he’s thought of at all it is as someone who doesn’t pay his debts. The Doctor and Amy know differently, of course. Amy, in fact, develops a bit of a crush on Vincent, which is heartily returned. As it turns out, Auvers is being tramautized by a mysterious presence that no one can see but Vincent. As The Doctor discovers, the presence is a Krafayis, a brutal race of aliens that look like a cross between a dragon and a parrot and continue to kill until they are killed. They are so brutal, in fact, that if one of them is injured, that one is left to fend for itself on whatever planet they’ve ravaged. So, this Krafayis has been abandoned, and is clearly not happy about it. As The Doctor saw the Krafayis in the window of The Church at Auvers, he wants to accompany Van Gogh when he goes to paint it so that he can be there when the Krafayis arrives and defeat it somehow. The trio do, but as The Doctor says, “Sometimes winning…winning is no fun at all.”
Writer Richard Curtis, whom you may know as the writer/director of Love, Actually among other things, tells a complex story that examines all manner of human emotions and contradictions through a sci-fi prism. In other words, he tells my favorite kind of sci-fi story. Several strong themes are addressed in his script, but the most fascinating because it’s rarely addressed this directly or this well, is Reclaiming Mental Illness.
This episode reminded me of issue #10 of the Buffy: Season Eight comic, called “Anywhere But Here,” a standalone issue in which Joss Whedon featured a real-life Buffy fan, Robin Balzer, who has schizophrenia. In that story, Robin’s character is the “minder” of an unstable reality field, which requires her to contain the instability in her brain to keep it in check. In other words, her mental illness is also her superpower.
I couldn’t help but see that in Vincent in this episode of Doctor Who. He suffers from depression, and who knows what other mental illnesses that weren’t diagnosed in his time, and yet he sees things no one else does, which not only makes him a brilliant artist, but allows him to protect his fellow townspeople from a threat, and allows him to see that Amy Pond is sad even if that sadness isn’t conscious to Amy herself. His mental illness is also his superpower.
To have The Doctor make the distinction between “madness” and depression was powerful. The Doctor is arguably one of the most trusted characters on television. Having him talk about mental illness as if it’s something that can and should be understood is extremely important beyond the story in our real lives. Doctor Who did something similar recently with dyslexia in “The Hungry Earth,” using little Elliot to illustrate it. It’s wonderful to see Doctor Who deal with issues real people actually deal with in addition to matters of intergalactic importance!
Interesting, too, is how alike Vincent and the Krafayis are. Though Vincent compares the Krafayis to the townspeople who lash out at him and his “madness,” I saw a similarity between him and the misunderstood monster who has something medically wrong with him. With the Krafayis, it is Vincent who is like the townspeople, lashing out at something he doesn’t understand until it’s too late.
Special kudos should go to director Jonny Campbell for his beautifully directed visuals that paid homage to the real Van Gogh’s work. The scene where Amy is sitting amongst the sunflowers is breathtaking, as are several others. There are also the wonderful performances he coaxed. Tony Curran was brilliant as Vincent, and my only regret is that he was brought on as a guest star to play a role that probably won’t be revisited. The intensity of the scene where The Doctor and Amy bring Vincent to the future to see his impact as an artist is palpable, and it’s all due to Curran’s performance. I don’t know anyone who’s seen this episode who didn’t cry at least a little during that.
At the end of the episode, The Doctor consoles Amy by telling her that “the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.” In a show with a history like Doctor Who’s, there are episodes that aren’t so great. Sometimes, they’re downright bad. But it’s episodes like “Vincent and The Doctor” that make the series what it is—a very good thing.
Teresa Jusino was born on the same day that Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like PinkRaygun.com, PopMatters.com, and CentralBooking.com (edited by Kevin Smokler). She is currently working on several fiction projects, including a web series for Pareidolia Films called The Pack, which she hopes to debut by the end of the year! Get Twitterpated with Teresa, Follow The Pack or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.